Farmer attitudes to environmental management

The research built directly upon previous work for Defra undertaken by CCRI with other partners in 2006-7 (Dwyer et al, 2007).

Defra has long recognised the role of the farmer and land manager in delivering environmental benefits. There has been a long-standing commitment to the provision of environmental benefits through incentives and regulation and  an increasing emphasis on voluntary industry-led provision through the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE). In addition to exploring farmers’ attitudes and associated behaviour towards environmental management, the research aimed to examine how farmers perceive and evaluate the outcomes of environmental management and to compare the management and environmental benefits of informal provision relative to that under agri-environment schemes.

The research findings revealed that farmers’ motivations and behaviour in connection with the environmental management of their farms are influenced by multiple factors, and that financial inducement is a contributing, but not a sole, factor. The research suggested that the key to ensuring long term farmer behaviour change is to change farmers’ mindsets so that they are willing to adopt environmental management practices.

The research was structured in five segments:

  • a literature review to explore farmers’ environmental behaviours and actions
  • an analysis of the Farm Business Survey (FBS) to provide evidence of the general pattern across the farming population of the factors that influence the farmer’s ability to adopt environmentally beneficial farm practices
  • telephone interviews with ten expert farm advisors to identify their views on farmers’ attitudes to environmental management and the importance of different drivers
  • sixty in-depth, face-to-face interviews with case study farmers to identify the psychological and physical motivations or barriers to environmental management
  • environmental assessments on sixty case study farms to assess environmental features in relation to farmland birds, wider biodiversity and resource protection.

The collective findings from these different assessments showed that no single factor is responsible for driving farmers’ attitudes to the environment, which appear to be based on a complex set of factors. A key finding is that farmers are not solely driven by financial motivations, and that other factors play a part, such as personal interest in environment, game shoots, a sense of social responsibility or farming self-image.

The research also found that there is an increased acceptance within the farming community of the need to demonstrate their environmental credentials, and that farmers generally appear to have a much greater sense of social responsibility for the environment than previous generations. Evidence from the research also pointed to widespread informal agri-environmental management, particularly on the margins of the farm where it has least impact on agricultural production.

The overall findings of the research suggested that policy-makers should continue to encourage and reinforce a sense of civic responsibility for environmental management amongst the farming community, particularly given the emerging discourse about the need to maximise food production to counter the threats of food security.

The research took place over a period of two years and was led by Jane Mills and the CCRI.